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The Sense of an Ending

Cover of The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending

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Winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize

By an acclaimed writer at the height of his powers, The Sense of an Ending extends a streak of extraordinary books that began with the best-selling Arthur & George and continued with Nothing to Be Frightened Of and, most recently, Pulse.

This intense new novel follows a middle-aged man as he contends with a past he has never much thought about--until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance, one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony Webster thought he'd left all this behind as he built a life for himself, and by now his marriage and family and career have fallen into an amicable divorce and retirement. But he is then presented with a mysterious legacy that obliges him to reconsider a variety of things he thought he'd understood all along, and to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.

A novel so compelling that it begs to be read in a single sitting, with stunning psychological and emotional depth and sophistication, The Sense of an Ending is a brilliant new chapter in Julian Barnes's oeuvre.

From the Hardcover edition.

Winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize

By an acclaimed writer at the height of his powers, The Sense of an Ending extends a streak of extraordinary books that began with the best-selling Arthur & George and continued with Nothing to Be Frightened Of and, most recently, Pulse.

This intense new novel follows a middle-aged man as he contends with a past he has never much thought about--until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance, one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony Webster thought he'd left all this behind as he built a life for himself, and by now his marriage and family and career have fallen into an amicable divorce and retirement. But he is then presented with a mysterious legacy that obliges him to reconsider a variety of things he thought he'd understood all along, and to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.

A novel so compelling that it begs to be read in a single sitting, with stunning psychological and emotional depth and sophistication, The Sense of an Ending is a brilliant new chapter in Julian Barnes's oeuvre.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    I remember, in no particular order: -- a shiny inner wrist;

    -- steam rising from a wet sink as a hot frying pan is laughingly tossed into it;

    -- gouts of sperm circling a plughole, before being sluiced down the full length of a tall house;

    -- a river rushing nonsensically upstream, its wave and wash lit by half a dozen chasing torchbeams;

    -- another river, broad and grey, the direction of its flow disguised by a stiff wind exciting the surface;

    -- bathwater long gone cold behind a locked door. This last isn't something I actually saw, but what you end up remembering isn't always the same as what you have witnessed.

    We live in time -- it holds us and moulds us -- but I've never felt I understood it very well. And I'm not referring to theories about how it bends and doubles back, or may exist elsewhere in parallel versions. No, I mean ordinary, everyday time, which clocks and watches assure us passes regularly: tick-tock, click-clock. Is there anything more plausible than a second hand? And yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time's malleability. Some emotions speed it up, others slow it down; occasionally, it seems to go missing -- until the eventual point when it really does go missing, never to return.



    I'm not very interested in my schooldays, and don't feel any nostalgia for them. But school is where it all began, so I need to return briefly to a few incidents that have grown into anecdotes, to some approximate memories which time has deformed into certainty. If I can't be sure of the actual events any more, I can at least be true to the impressions those facts left. That's the best I can manage.

    There were three of us, and he now made the fourth. We hadn't expected to add to our tight number: cliques and pairings had happened long before, and we were already beginning to imagine our escape from school into life. His name was Adrian Finn, a tall, shy boy who initially kept his eyes down and his mind to himself. For the first day or two, we took little notice of him: at our school there was no welcoming ceremony, let alone its opposite, the punitive induction. We just registered his presence and waited.

    The masters were more interested in him than we were. They had to work out his intelligence and sense of discipline, calculate how well he'd previously been taught, and if he might prove 'scholarship material'. On the third morning of that autumn term, we had a history class with Old Joe Hunt, wryly affable in his three-piece suit, a teacher whose system of control depended on maintaining sufficient but not excessive boredom.

    'Now, you'll remember that I asked you to do some preliminary reading about the reign of Henry VIII.' Colin, Alex and I squinted at one another, hoping that the ques­tion wouldn't be flicked, like an angler's fly, to land on one of our heads. 'Who might like to offer a characterisation of the age?' He drew his own conclusion from our averted eyes. 'Well, Marshall, perhaps. How would you describe Henry VIII's reign?"

    Our relief was greater than our curiosity, because Marshall was a cautious know-nothing who lacked the inventiveness of true ignorance. He searched for possible hidden complexities in the question before eventually locating a response.

    'There was unrest, sir.'

    An outbreak of barely controlled smirking; Hunt himself almost smiled.

    'Would you, perhaps, care to elaborate?'

    Marshall nodded slow assent, thought a little longer, and decided it was no time for caution. 'I'd say there was great unrest, sir.'

    'Finn, then. Are you up in this period?'

    The new boy was...

About the Author-
  • Julian Barnes's honors include the Somerset Maugham Award, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2004 he was named Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture. He lives in London.

    www.julianbarnes.com

Reviews-
  • The New Yorker

    "Elegant, playful, and remarkable."

  • The San Francisco Chronicle "A page turner, and when you finish you will return immediately to the beginning . . . Who are you? How can you be sure? What if you're not who you think you are? What if you never were? . . . At 163 pages, The Sense of an Ending is the longest book I have ever read, so prepare yourself for rereading. You won't regret it."
  • Cleveland Plain Dealer "Ferocious. . . . a book for the ages."
  • The Washington Post "With his characteristic grace and skill, Barnes manages to turn this cat-and-mouse game into something genuinely suspenseful."
  • The Los Angeles Times "[A] jewel of conciseness and precision. . . . The Sense of an Ending packs into so few pages so much that the reader finishes it with a sense of satisfaction more often derived from novels several times its length."
  • Vogue "Elegiac yet potent, The Sense of an Ending probes the mysteries of how we remember and our impulse to redact, correct -- and sometimes entirely erase -- our pasts. . . . Barnes's highly wrought meditation on aging gives just as much resonance to what is unknown and unspoken as it does to the momentum of its own plot."
  • The Washington Times "Deliciously intriguing . . . with complex and subtle undertones [and] laced with Barnes' trademark wit and graceful writing."
  • The Wall Street Journal "Ominous and disturbing. . . . This outwardly tidy and conventional story is one of Barnes's most indelible [and] looms oppressively in our minds."
  • Julie Wittes Schlack, The Boston Globe. "Brief, beautiful....That fundamentally chilling question--Am I the person I think I am? -turns out to be a surprisingly suspenseful one.... As Barnes so elegantly and poignantly revels, we are all unreliable narrators, redeemed not by the accuracy of our memories but by our willingness to question them."
  • Tom Zelman, Minneapolis Star Tribune "A brilliant, understated examination of memory and how it works, how it compartmentalizes and fixes impressions to tidily store away..... Barnes reminds his readers how fragile is the tissue of impressions we conveniently rely upon as bedrock."
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